Filling up the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai for the Justin Bieber concert is hardly a problem for organiser Arjun Jain of White Fox India. It’s the anticipation of the event that’s giving him sleepless nights
First Published: Sat, Apr 29 2017. 11 23 PM IST
Everything is good, under control, says Arjun Jain, as he enters the room, pre-empting the question that he probably gets asked a lot these days.
By the end of this meeting at the St Regis hotel in Mumbai, though, Jain reveals how his stress started sometime in October. He has not slept well since then.
Jain’s vulnerability, despite his outward facade that drips bravado, is neither surprising nor an act—it’s an outcome of the unique position he is in. The 28-year-old has succeeded in bringing to India, and Mumbai, the most popular, contemporary global music star to grace these shores since Michael Jackson in the late 1990s.
Jain is the co-founder of White Fox India, the event company that’s organizing the Indian leg of Canadian Justin Bieber’s Purpose World Tour 2017, to be held at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on 10 May.
The 23-year-old Bieber, who was discovered through his YouTube videos less than a decade ago, is one of the world’s most popular performers. He is the world’s most followed male on Twitter; and with earnings of $56 million in 2016, according to Forbes, he is the sixth highest paid celebrity under the age of 30.
The second phase of tickets sales—which went live on 14 April—for his upcoming gig, now just 10 days away, were available on the website bookmyshow.com. Some came with the option to be paid off in monthly instalments. Not entirely surprising given that ticket prices range from Rs5,040-76,790.
Filling up the DY Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai, also used as a venue for cricket and football matches, is hardly going to be a problem for Jain. Expecting to pack the place with over 80,000 people, a majority likely to be teenagers waiting to let loose during school and college holidays, it’s the anticipation that’s giving the entrepreneur sleepless nights.
Jain says he and his company “hustled hard” to get Bieber. This included non-stop travelling, liaison with the agency handling the star (Creative Artists Agency, or CAA), his manager, and using the very Indian route of a “personal connect”.
On the chase since last summer, Jain trailed the Bieber’s retinue at appearances all over Europe—the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, Saint-Tropez (France) and Mykonos (Greece). “We were strong on our bid. It wasn’t only about getting the artist, but also to show how we would produce this,” says Jain.
From EDM to pop
Started in 2012 to cash in on the growing interest in electronic dance music, or EDM, White Fox has organized shows for audiences of 1,500 to 15,000 people, featuring performers such as Hardwell, Nucleya and the Frenchman David Guetta. But Jain realized he had to take things to the next level: “Make that heavy move to a large-scale event with someone who could come and shake the country.”
The Purpose Tour will, naturally, be a logistical challenge. Already, India and Mumbai are not the easiest places to hold events of this scale—snafus include technological support and transportation.
In the past, the country has had a fractured relationship with major international entertainers. Though big-ticket draws such as Beyoncé, Elton John, Shakira, Akon, etc. have performed here, overall, India remains a low-profile music concert destination. some of the gaps include inadequate venues, red tape and permissions, security concerns and profitability—costs and taxes are high while ticket prices have to be kept low.
“India is still not a one-window place; you have to go to, like, 30 people/offices/signatures. Infrastructure: stadiums don’t have parking, that’s a challenge. We have sorted movement—we will use choppers. Little problem on production is that what they get elsewhere in technology, we don’t have that in India,” Jain adds.
There have also been elements of unpredictability in organizing shows here. For example, Guetta’s show in January was cancelled in Bengaluru over security concerns. An act by stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld last year in Mumbai was called off at the last minute due to licensing and, strangely, parking issues.
But the success of British band Coldplay’s show in Mumbai in November, attended by roughly 80,000 people, the biggest names in Indian entertainment—and an address by the prime minister—is a sign of hope.
Jain rattled off details. The 120-strong Purpose entourage will be welcomed by a separate immigration procedure, will have designated areas for bags, curated driving lanes to the hotel and rooms accoutred to high specifications. White Fox India has already provided the singer’s team with suggestions on clothes they need to wear, the type of sunblock to carry, and what food to eat—or not.
The venue will be designed in such a way that even the cheaper tickets would get a clear view of Bieber, and not just be dependent on visuals relayed on TV screens, as is usually the norm at events of this scale.
Costing approximately $4.5 million (about Rs30 crore), the show, according to Jain, will provide White Fox an edge over competitors, give them an advantage for future performances—he already ponders over a wishlist that includes Rihanna and Adele. He wants to cut no corners, so there will be buses to the venue, “lakhs and lakhs of free bottles of water” and air-conditioned toilets.
The company claims 80% of the tickets for the show have been sold, and several key sponsors—Bajaj Electricals, Kingfisher, Pernod Ricard, Redbull, Skybags, PVR—and Reliance Jio as the chief sponsor are on board.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Jain says. “But it didn’t come on a platter. When the final letter (of acceptance) came, we celebrated for one day, knowing that there will be no turning back. Since then, we don’t sleep.”
Bieber’s appeal in India—and everywhere else—is that he bridges pop music—a genre that works well in the country—with EDM. He is a true modern-age musician—using the appeal and reach of the Internet with old-fashioned “bad behaviour” to stay in the news.
His latest album Purpose—a seemingly long apology for misdemeanour that include abandoning his pet monkey in Germany, urinating in a mop bucket, writing at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that he hoped Frank would have been a Belieber—was acknowledged by some as a show of maturity. The most successful songs from the album that came out in November 2015 are Sorry, What Do You Mean and Where Are You Now.
The Boston Globe called the album “surprisingly sophisticated and revealing new release”, while Billboard said, “Purpose turns skeptics into born-again Beliebers”. The New Yorker said it largely disposed with that original lighthearted spirit to make way for a subdued and grave Bieber.
Though several people in the music industry believe his appeal extends across age groups, there is no denying in the predominance of his young female followers.
Fay Noronha, a software developer based in Mumbai, finds an unnerving commonality with the singer, which also makes her a fan. They were born in the same year—1994—and she has experienced similar growing-up pangs. She was in an on-off relationship at the same time Bieber was (with entertainer Selena Gomez), and listening to his opinion on relationships through his songs made them connect more than anything.
Noronha hasn’t got tickets to the concert yet—she is hoping to get selected in a lucky draw or for the right-priced tickets to show up online. “My cousin and I are crazy about him. We texted each other when we heard the news. We were screaming. We have been on bookmyshow constantly. The ones we wanted got all sold out,” she says over the phone.
Noronha tried what several other fans did—she called up Radio One, the station that’s been running a dedicated contest for a couple of weeks now. Their call lines have often jammed during the five shows they do through the day, with about 2,500-5,000 calls per show.
On one of the shows, host Erica D’Souza ribbed a male caller for being an exception in the seemingly female-dominated world of “Bifandom”.
It’s about the music
But “JB transcends that barrier,” explains Hrishikesh Kannan, popularly known as Hrishi K., a producer and host on 94.3 Radio One’s daily show GoodMorningMumbai. “Coldplay was pop-rock and had some elements of electronic (music), but stayed in the fringes. It’s not just teenagers, but the sub-25 are also into EDM. Because his (Bieber’s) music is melodic pop from which he has gravitated to EDM; he is also bringing in 25-40 year olds.
“Lots of artists like Justin and Rihanna give you the perception they are not live performers, but they are. If you look at the background, this guy is playing those instruments.”
Yet Bieber is known at least much for the virulent hatred he arouses in critics. On a Comedy Central “roast” two years ago, actress and comedienne Natasha Leggero said his fans are called Beliebers because it’s politically incorrect to use the word retards. A generic Google search of the most hated people in the world often includes Justin Bieber.
“It’s just sour grapes,” believes Anubha Nahar, a dentist and a fan. “Appreciate the kid for what he is. He has not done anything wrong.”
“I like his music, the recent ones particularly. Though in the middle (of his career so far) he was a bit…,” she trails off, “…but if you see Sorry—I love the lyrics, love the video—I would just love to see him as well. He has evolved: Purpose is way more mature and the songs are “singable”; they are amazing.”
It was Nahar’s brother who became a fan first and even got a haircut similar to the phenomenon’s some six-to-seven years ago. This piqued her interest, particularly because the haircut did not look good at all, she says, laughing.
“Every generation has had its naysayers,” adds Kannan. “When Wham came out, they were made fun of. Then George Michael became an elder statesman, and when he passed on, the world paid its homage. People take the mickey out of (actress) Anne Hathaway, but she has some amazing performances. When JB started, there was an alternate set that said ‘this is floozy’. But let me remind you, this is a kid who is a multi-instrumentalist. As he has gotten older, he has gathered around him the right collaborators, engineers… Passionate lovers of live music tend to diss him, but now even they are taking him seriously.”
With a little over a week to go, the buzz has started to build around the show, with stories and rumours about who will attend and who will perform—the show starts at 4pm, with Indian and international performers leading into Bieber, who will come last. The support cast plays a significant role in the overall success of the show—rapper Jay Z was a big hit during the Coldplay performance.
Jain, in the meantime, is still fielding off frantic calls for tickets. He and his team are building up media interest as well, releasing interesting titbits about the show every other day. He still has some days to go before he sleeps, though.
“If we touch 100% execution, there is no turning back. We will prove that we did the largest show in India, and we did it well. We will show we can curate certain things in certain ways, so a majority of people will like to come back because it’s a White Fox event, not because of the artist. It’s about class, setting a standard, so that artists when they go back should tell others, ‘Dude, when I went to India, the way we were treated…’.”
“That’s our mission.”